Runner Fills Golden Years With Gold Medals

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A man who grew up rounding up the family horses on foot, ran and threw his way to six gold medals at the Lori Piestewa Native American Games.

Tom Cooka, 75, -- a member of the Hopi tribe -- won the medals at the games held July 14-17 on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

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Tom Cooka, 75, is a seasoned runner. He recently claimed six gold medals at the Lori Piestewa Native American Games.

His medals were garnered in the 1500 meter walk, 1500 meters, 3000 meters, 800 meters, 400 meters and the shot put of the 75-79-years age division.

As extraordinary as the feat seems, it was nothing new for Cooka who has been dominating the games since they originated three years ago.

Last year, also in Flagstaff, while competing in the 70-74-years-of-age division, Cooka won the 400, 800, 1500 meter runs, 1500 meter walk and the shot put.

Two years ago in the competition, Cooka won six gold medals.

Running has been a way of life for Cooka since he was a child growing up on the family ranch north of Winslow. He recalls his parents sending him out on foot to round up horses and return them to corral.

Cooka retired to the Rim country after a long career on the Santa Fe Railroad in Winslow. As a 50-year-old, he was a member of the Northland Pioneer College track and field team.

Since moving to Payson, Cooka has traveled the state participating in senior track and field events.

In 2002 at Arizona State Senior Olympics held in Sun City, Cooka won the 70-74-year-old 5K run in a time of 24 minutes. About 40 minutes later, he took to the course to participate in the 10K event. Finishing in 50 minutes 27seconds, he captured in second gold medal of the state showdown.

A year later at the Payson Area Habitat for Humanity 5K run held at Green Valley Park, Cooka was first (25:07) in the 70-99-years group.

At the P.F. Chang's Rock ‘n' Roll Arizona 1/2 Marathon, Jan. 10, 2005, Cooka ran to third place finish in the 70-74 age division. He toured the 13.1 valley-area course in 2:05:55.

Cooka is unsure of his next outing, but says he is leaning toward competing in a master's level track and field meet to be held in October in St. George, Utah.

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